Answer to Map #7

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Answer: On this cartogram, each country’s size is proportional to the estimated population of Christians living in that country.

The largest country on this map is the United States, which is home to more Christians than any other country in the world. The United States is followed (in order) by Brazil, Mexico, and the Philippines. Friday’s hint drew your attention to the Philippines, one of only two countries in Asia whose population is majority Christian. On this cartogram, the Philippines appears much larger than nearby countries such as Indonesia, which is a more populous country but whose population is overwhelmingly Muslim.

One phenomenon made clear by this map is how many Christians live in sub-Saharan Africa. Many of the most populous African countries, such as Nigeria and Ethiopia, are home to large numbers of both Christians and Muslims. Other countries, such as Somalia and most of the countries in North Africa, have populations that are entirely Muslim, and thus barely appear on this map. Egypt, home to some 15 million Coptic Christians, is an important exception to this trend, as was mentioned in Wednesday’s hint.

The data that went into making this map is based entirely on estimates. Even in the United States, where we have a decennial census and annual data collected by the American Community Survey, it is impossible to know exactly how many people self-identify as Christians, since the federal government does not collect data about religion. To make this cartogram, we have used the estimates collected on Wikipedia’s “Christianity by Country” article. In general, we have taken the largest estimate provided for each country, which shouldn’t matter that much because the important thing on a cartogram is to get a sense of the relative populations from one country to another.

It is important, however, to mention one specific case where this methodology has almost certainly influenced the shape of our final map: China. China is home to a large and rapidly growing population of Christians, estimated at anywhere between 31 million and 67 million people. Some estimates suggest that China may actually have more Christians than the United States by the year 2025. At present, many Chinese Christians worship in unofficial “house churches” that are not recognized by the government, which makes estimating their numbers impossible. By taking the larger estimate, we have depicted China quite large on this map. Should it actually appear smaller? Maybe—or maybe not.

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